Monday, December 31, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea # 25: Mild Summers

Unlike the 3 month long scorchers in the US midwest, Korea approaches the high heats of summer more gently.  Korea's season tend to change slowly.
We kind of warm up to summer, and then it's moderately hot for a while.  Then the summer rains come and cool things down.  Then, it's the normal ridiculously hot summer weather that makes you sweat your whole shirt out just walking down the street.  But the good part is that this crazy hot time, doesn't actually last very long.  It's only about a month.  Then, Korea returns to just moderately hot, and then, before you know it we're back to the beautiful just-right weather of fall.
(Because of this gentle slope upward to the uncomfortable summer highs, many Koreans simply opt out of home air conditioning. They figure that they can just tough it out for a month or so.)
Summer is hot, but not too hot - at least most of the time.  I love this about Korea.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

By Gracious Powers: A Poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
We know that God is with us night and morning,
And never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
For which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
We take it thankfully and without trembling
Out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
The joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
We shall remember all the days we lived through
And our whole life shall then be yours alone.

By gracious powers so faithfully protected,
So quietly, so wonderfully near,
I'll live each day in hope, with you beside me,
And go with you through every coming year.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Letters and Papers from Prison."

100 Things I Love About Korea # 24: Bath Houses

Last night, our family went to the local bathhouse (aka sauna) and soaked in hot-tubs and generally relaxed.  Korean bath houses usually have a variety of tubs.  There are different temperatures (from almost ice to scalding) and different flavors.  I've seen green tea baths, a plethora of herbal baths, wooden edged, and even a soju bath, which is the most popular Korean alcohol.  There are also often a variety of saunas or hot rooms - wet, dry, and Sahara desert- melt your face off - hot.
Some of the nicer bathhouses even have out door hot-tubs.  One of my favorite Korean memories is of sitting with Michael Palmer in the outdoor hot-tub at Paradise Spa with thick snow flakes falling on our heads and feet.
For the small price of about four dollars, you can pamper yourself and ease your tensions for a few hours.  We all love it, but John David's favorite part is always the movable shower head without any limitations about getting water all over the place.
Oh, and by the way, everyone's naked - men and women in totally separate rooms.  

Fragrant Offerings (Philippians 4:10-20)

This is a guest post by + Ron Knickerbocker, who preached in our church this past Sunday.  But skip past his self-efacing intro.  It's golden.
I apologize this morning if the exegesis is not up to Josh’s standards, but it was a pretty busy week with Christmas and finalizing my grades. I was going to apologize for the short length of this sermon – but, who am I kidding, “you’re welcome.”
Now, let’s look at Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 10-20
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
When Josh asked me to preach, he told me the verses for today were 4:14-23.  When I looked at that, I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve got nothing.”  (I wish I could preach on verses 10-13, but you’ve probably all heard that sermon before.) So, I kept reading those verses over and over, and I kept getting stuck on vs. 18 – “a fragrant offering.” 
A fragrant offering. In the Old Testament, this is the language of temple sacrifice. (For example, we can look at Exodus 29.)
Exodus 29:15-18, 23-25
15 “Take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. 16 Slaughter it and take the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar. 17 Cut the ram into pieces and wash the internal organs and the legs, putting them with the head and the other pieces. 18 Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord.
23 From the basket of bread made without yeast, which is before the Lord, take one round loaf, one thick loaf with olive oil mixed in, and one thin loaf. 24 Put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and have them wave them before the Lord as a wave offering. 25 Then take them from their hands and burn them on the altar along with the burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the Lord, a food offering presented to the Lord.
 The Israelites were to bring animal and grain offerings to the Lord and the priests would burn them on the altar and they would make “a pleasing aroma” to the Lord.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #23: People: Kim IlHyang

Dear Friends at KNU International English Church,
I am so sorry that I couldn't fully commit the things I had to do.  I am in Seoul now.  As you know, I am pursing being a lawyer.   Unfortunately, I didn't get admission to law school.  So I had to go to plan B.  I'm working with my friend, helping her in her business.  This will help me to be fully independent of my family and acomplish my dream.  That's why I had to leave town all of the sudden.  I am working and studying now.
Meeting you guys in Cheonan was a total blessing for me. Just like you who are leaving for your country, my time at KNU was a precious journey to help me learn to live like Christ.  I belive you can expect blessings in your new ways too because God always leads us.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year.
- Il-Hyang

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Because of the Prince of Peace - Philippians 4:1-9

"Prince of Peace" by Wendie Thompson
One of the most famous texts about Jesus’ birth is Isaiah 9, where it says, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us,” and then it goes on to list all of these amazing names, but one of these names for Jesus is “Prince of Peace.”  Something about that name has stuck in the memory of Christians.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  
This little baby, born in a shed for farm animals, was born as a royal peace giver.  This little baby - so innocent, so vulnerable, so fragile - is yet the Ruler of that Peace for which we desperately long.  Somehow, even though we struggle to believe it, this little baby is the answer to all our questions.  Jesus, Prince of Peace.

Now, hold that in mind, as we listen Stacy Keene tell her true story about how a coming baby impacted her world.  (Click here to listen.  You can skip to 1:00 and stop at 6:00.  Or you can read the text below)

So my first true love was my Grandpapa, and he really set the precedent for every other man I ever considered loving.  He was clever but modest, and brave but quiet.  So when I was an adult, and I found out the great news that I was pregnant with my first child, the first person I wanted to tell was my Grandpapa.
Except that he had just found out a week before that he had four weeks to live.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lenard Cohen's "Hallelujuh" Remixed

Check out this incredible remix of Lenard Cohen's classic song, "Hallelujah."  Kelley Mooney has rewritten the lyrics to correspond with the story of Jesus' death and resurrection.

100 Things I Love About Korea - #22: People: Wayne Arrellano

   How do you share what God is doing your life in just one page? It's quite hard. So rather than sharing what is happening now, I'd rather share the lesson I am continually learning.
   Unlike many of my friends and colleagues, I didn't grow up in the church, and although I had two parents, only one was biological but both were real. I knew nothing of God and in many ways I didn't know much about happiness. I'm half Filipino and half American. I lived in the Philippines until I was 7, at which point I moved to California and learned how to speak English. I mention this only to say that I never really felt accepted anywhere and so I never felt at peace. 
   I  eventually grew up to be a California Kid but it wasn't until I moved to the hills of West Virginia, when a very cute girl in my class asked me to go to her youth group did I ever step foot inside a church willingly.  From that moment on, life changed. I was sixteen years old.
   Among many things, what changed in me was this. (Cheesy, I know) I felt like I found a home in God's heart and in mine there was peace. This peace has become my most closest companion. 
   I had peace when I started living alone and had to pay rent when I was only a sophomore in high school. I didn't know enough about doubting God to be afraid or to be worried. God's peace was ever present in my life.
   When it was time to choose which university to attend...the inexpensive state schools or the very expensive private Christian schools and then finding a way to pay the costs, I had peace.
   When time came to decide what kind of future I wanted. And when the time came to decide if I wanted to answer a call from God to work with the youth in some form. I knew my answer when my heart felt that certain yet mysterious peace that can only be explained as God's. I like to say when I can sleep at night about a decision I've just made, then I know that is the right decision for me.
   And when time came to decide to come to Korea, and then remain in Korea, that's right. The same peace was there. (Actually, a funny story about I was praying about what is up next, Pastor Josh asked to meet with me and so we went to the gym together to work out. During the workout, we made small talk but mainly we just focused on lifting weights and running on the treadmill. Afterwards, in the community shower, he shared the the reasons why I should stay in Korea. It was then I felt the peace I was so certain of...strangest place to find.
   Everyday I wake up knowing that I am right where I need to be. Despite the current circumstances surrounding my work, I know that KNU is where I belong right now. How do I know. In my heart, there is peace and a certainty that God is with me.
   And that my home and acceptance belong in God's heart and among God's people.  So, let me leave you with the Scripture I live by.  Philippians 4:6-7:
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And Luke 12:25:
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life (and there is a footnote that reads "or an inch to his height"). If I could do that, I would be a giant. 
God bless.
Thanks +Wynn Arellano!

Monday, December 17, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #21 - People: Bruce Kim

Goodbye's are a regular part of our church.  To help us say goodbye well, I've been posting people's goodbye letters here.  This time, Bruce turned the tradition around and said goodbye to my family, but along the way he tells a lot of his own story too.  Enjoy.  

   I hate goodbyes. 
   I'd rather not get to know someone new than say goodbye. That's not the best quality in someone who decides to live abroad. When you leave your home country, you meet new people and they become as close as family members here on this life raft of expatriates. Then you or they go home and you never see them again except for facebook updates. When I meet someone new I usually ask how long they expect to live in Korea as if I'm anticipating their departure. I should stop doing that. I should meet a new person thinking he or she could potentially become a lifelong friend and not someone to say hi to and forget. It's certainly not the best quality in a Christian.
   My wife and I moved to Korea in 1997. That's before the Clinton impeachment, before 9/11, right before the Columbine shootings. The internet was embryonic. We've been attending this church since 1999 when we moved to Ssangyong-dong. My mom worked in the same Cleveland school as Pam, Bill and Gail Patch's daughter, and they recommended we visit if we wanted to see an English worship service. Back then, it was mainly the Mitchell family and a couple teachers. 

   We've seen hundreds of new faces come and go since then. It's impossible to remember them all. We've seen weddings, babies being born and people eulogized. It's so much more fun counting the babies. We tried to remember all the births of members since we started attending and we stopped at 21. We're in the middle of another baby boom. Soon that'll be closer to 30.
   When the Browards arrived in 2004, I liked them immediately. There was something infectious about their smiles, especially Emma's. In one of his earliest sermons in the old sanctuary, Josh mentioned his admiration for Daunte Culpepper, a pro football player known for explosive bursts of speed. Watching Josh re-enact his excitement complete with arms waving and jumping behind the podium, I remember thinking, 'I like this guy.' His energy was impressive, but then I realized that was just one facet of his devotion and commitment to the church and community. 

   Previous pastors for KNU International English Church haven't always agreed on the inclusion of non-English speakers in the service. Josh seemed to embrace the diversity here, and that's something I came to admire and greatly appreciate. Older members remember when the entire congregation would clear out during summer and winter vacations leaving the service feeling skeletal. 
   Now membership is consistent year round and the body of the church has filled out like a growing baby. That's healthy for a church spiritually, emotionally and financially to stand on its own. Josh and the leadership teams deserve credit for making sure this church became a home and didn't remain a supplementary service.
   I once read an article about how expatriates collect friends in a similar way to prehistoric people gathering new members into a tribe. I'll miss the Browards immensely. It was nice knowing they were here these past 8 years, going out for dinner together, playing cards, just being in each other's company even knowing this day would come when we would have to say goodbye. It was nice watching the kids grow up. It was nice going through childbirth with them. Josh set a good example for me as a father, friend and spiritual leader. I know he will do a great job in his new church assignment. I'm not sure how close I'll allow myself to get to know the new pastor's family. But if they're anything like the Browards it'll be hard not to love them.

100 Things I Love About Korea - #20 - People: Shannon Smith

This month our church members are sharing testimonies during the worship service.  This is Shannon's testimony from two weeks ago.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am not a person who likes change. I came to Korea 4 1/2 years ago with the intention to stay here one year and go back to the U.S. I didn't want to come to Korea, but after living here a few months, I made many friends, learned to love Korean food, as well as love Korea's people and culture. As I said though, I hate change and I have experienced a lot of change while living here. Since moving to Korea, I have worked at 5 different schools, lived in 5 different apartments, and said goodbye to so many friends. It hasn't been easy for me. Part of the reason is because when I care about people, I care about them deeply, so it’s hard for me to let them go. It’s good because it means I genuinely love others, but it’s bad because it means I am often easily hurt. 
For most of my life, my self-worth and acceptance have come from what other people think about me. I am a people-pleaser. I often feel like I can't say "no" to people, because I worry about whether they will still love me or care about me. And even though I have been a Christian for almost 20 years, my relationship with God was the same. I never felt good enough or worthy enough for God to love me. No matter how many times I asked God to forgive me, I never felt like I was really forgiven. I believed God could heal and forgive everyone, except me. I walked around with so much guilt, shame, brokenness, and negativity. I felt so lonely, even though I was rarely alone. 
Most people didn't know this though, because I was too afraid to share it with others. I cried almost every day for months and it was even hard for me to pray. I just felt so heavy and burdened by all of it. I wanted to fix it, but there was nothing I could do. Throughout this whole time of struggle, I was so focused on what "I" should do, that I never really surrendered it all to God. I was never really honest with God about all of my angry and hurt feelings. Just like my fear of telling people about my struggles, I was even afraid to tell God. It wasn't until I simply said, "God, I need you. I need you. I need you", over and over through my tears that I began to really experience God's love and grace in my life. There never would have been anything I could have done to heal my brokenness and pain. I needed God to heal me. I needed God to reassure me that no matter what my past looks like, He still loves me and forgives it all. I needed God to give me peace where there was so much despair. And I needed God to give me hope that no matter what my future holds, He is with me and will never leave me alone. 

100 Things I Love About Korea - #19: People: Dianna Kriegh

This month our church members are sharing testimonies during the worship service.  This is Dianna's testimony from last week.

I came to Korea with a specific plan. I was going to stay one year, improve my Korean language skills while teaching, and then leave for a graduate degree in East Asian history. Soon after the 12-month mark arrived for me, I was telling people that I felt like God was laughing at me—good-naturedly of course—because everything I had said about where my life was going to be that fall was wrong. By that time I was living in Cheonan and teaching at the school where I still am today.
I knew before I ever arrived that God’s hand was guiding me in this and that he had plans beyond my own, and yet I’ve still found it extremely difficult to surrender my future to his keeping. Every fall I have once again pulled out my old grad school applications, reconsidered my goals, and begun the arduous mountain of paperwork necessary for entrance into highly competitive programs and the scholarships that would make them possible. Yet, every spring I have found that it’s not time to leave and as you can see I’m most definitely still here.
This fall the application process seemed more important than it ever has before. The Fulbright program, which brought me here to teach, is technically a graduate fellowship and a multi-national government grant, and it allows participants a maximum of three years in the program. At the same time that I was sure I had no choice but to leave I felt God calling me to become more involved and to invest more of myself in my students and my life here. As I was spending spare moments in the teachers’ office trying to write personal statements and essays for scholarships, I was also becoming involved with the students’ lunch-time bible study, being asked for advice and guidance, and connecting with parents who only see their sons on rare school holidays.
In the middle of all this I began to get angry with God. I felt like he was telling me to stay when both he and I knew that was impossible—even if I could stay in Korea with another teaching program I couldn’t stay at my school because it is and has been a Fulbright school for many years. As a result of this stress, by the middle of September my normal struggle with hormonal insomnia had turned into a continuous cycle of so little sleep that I watched my health deteriorate and everything in my life come to a standstill; nothing was getting done. 
On the last Thursday in September I had a meeting with Josh. I desperately needed an outside perspective on my problems, and I got it. I walked away from that meeting with advice that I was determined not to follow—the suggestion to just talk to my school about staying without Fulbright and see what they said. I of course knew that Josh had no idea how impossible his suggestion really was because it was Fulbright and not my school that would stop something like that from happening.
Less than 24 hours later a completely disconnected conversation with our school’s head English teacher led to a request that I stay past my Fulbright contract. By the following Monday, I was officially asked to sign a contract for three more years at my school pending Fulbright’s approval and promise that at the end of that time our school could return to the program. Throughout October things with my school continued to progress as we considered appropriate ways to approach Fulbright with our request and began filling out paperwork and tracking down documents for the change of my visa status that would necessarily come with the change in my contract.
I continued to have so many doubts and to worry about what would happen, but finally on the day after Thanksgiving I had a meeting with the director of Fulbright Korea. In the hour long conversation I had with her she not only agreed to allow my school to temporarily leave the program with the promise that they could return when I leave, but also she offered to help me obtain the Korean government scholarship for graduate school in Korea three years from now. Objectively speaking, there are still many things that could happen between now and July that could cause all of these plans to fall through, but I have faith that as God started this he will also complete it. I think I have finally reached the point where I can stop making my own plans, because I’ve learned to really trust that God’s are better.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Dangerous Is Bangladesh? (Talk Back Series)

Talk Back Question:  I wonder how dangerous it might be to live or stay in Bangladesh?
[This question can in on a Talk Back card at our church.]

Well, visiting Bangladesh is pretty safe (or we wouldn’t be doing it).  However, we have to take some precautions.  For example, our teams are limited in size - so as not to attract too much attention - and we are careful to stay in safe places. Bangladesh is not a radical country.  There are almost no terrorists and few fundamentalists.  Overall, most of the dangers come from its poverty not from its religious situation. However, it sounds like your question is more related to a long-term stay.  Actually a few people from our church have contemplated a stay of 3-6 months in Bangladesh.  Our partners in Bangladesh said they would welcome longer term volunteers (as long as the visa can be obtained).  They could stay in Dhaka and volunteer at the national ministry center, or they could stay in Birganj (the town closest to the Village of Hope).   The main things for safety are not traveling at night and avoiding spending the night in isolated places.  Otherwise, it should be safe for a long-term stay.

Monday, December 3, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #18: Green Growth

Korea was one of the first nations to make environmentally friendly economic development one of its key governmental philosophies.  This is a bit surprising in that (a) Korea has just recently emerged from developing nation status, (b) Korea has a history of being an environmental abuser, and (c) the initiative for the green growth project came from the right-wing conservative president Lee Min-Bak.
At a time, when other countries were cutting back on their environmental regulations to make room for easier economic growth, South Korea bucked the trends and doubled down on environmental sustainability.   80% of Korea's economic development package went toward companies promoting what they have dubbed "green growth."  They are investing heavily in research and infrastructure that will make the whole nation more efficient.
One of the benefits of being a mid-sized nation with a history of autocracy is that nationalized policies are easier to implement.  South Korea's style of environmental regulations and benefits would be nearly impossible to duplicate in the fractured federalism of the USA.  However, every nation should take their cues from Korea's basic philosophy of investing in environmentally friendly business and in the up-and-coming industry of environmentalism (alternative energy, recycling, etc).  It's not only good for the globe.  It's also good business!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #17: Coffee Shops

There is a coffee shop on every corner, sometimes two, literally.  Coffee has to be the single fastest growing consumer good in Korea.  The boom of coffee shops is a well recognized trend.
There is a new coffee shop in our neighborhood almost every month.  First the coffee shops replaced the bars, but now they are taking over the clothing stores and regular restaurants.  Many of the shops have their own mini-roasteries, as well as unique menu items like homemade baked goods or sandwiches.
Not that I'm complaining.  I love coffee, and I love variety, and I love supporting mom-and-pop stores. All of this makes Korea surprisingly utopia-esque for coffee aficionados.  They're ubiquitous.*  

* In case you're not a native speaker in Korea, this word usage is tongue-in-cheek.  Ubiquitous (a rare word in English) is a very commonly used word in Korean's public signage, in which companies or programs say how wonderful they are.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wise Love - Philippians 1:1-11

The church in Philippi began quietly, turned into a roller coaster, and then proceeded into a slow plod of active waiting.  Paul and his missionary team arrived in Philippi and just kind of hung out for a few days.  On the Sabbath, they went to the river bank - a common place of prayer for Jews when the city didn’t have synagogues.  
That’s when the action started to pick up.  A rich business woman, named Lydia became a Christian right there on the spot.  They baptized her right there right then in that river.  Then, being a woman used to getting her way, she insisted that they come and stay in her home.  
Things went on fairly normally for a while.  It seems that Paul continued his normal missionary pattern of preaching at gatherings of Jews and interested gentiles.  But then Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who told fortunes.  Without her demonic connection to the spirit world, the slave girl lost her fortune telling powers.  Her owners were furious, so they stirred up a riot and got Paul and Silas arrested.  
Then, God rocked the jailhouse with an earthquake and set Paul and Silas free.  Except they didn’t leave.  They stayed to convert the jailer and his whole household.  But the next day, the city officials begged them to leave so they’d stop causing trouble.  After a mob riot, a beating with rods, and a night in jail, Paul and Silas understandably decided it was time to move on to another city.
But that left a group of brand new Christians in Philippi.  They came from all walks of life.  There was Lydia, the elite fashionista ... the unnamed slave girl ... and the jailer who was so limited in job options that he worked in a dungeon babysitting criminals.  This motley crew of baby Christians not only survives but thrives.